Contributing writer for The Artifice.
Bald of Evil: Questioned
Nosferatu, Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, Lex Luthor, Kingpin, Bane, The Penguin, Golum, Voldemort, Thanos, Red Skull, The Night King… They all are villains. And they all are bald. And the list can go on and on. Male baldness is often used in fiction to equate villainy. This works even better when the hero, in opposition, has lustrous and abundant hair (e.g., He-Man vs. Skeletor), since there is an ancient sociocultural belief that hair is a symbol of health, virility and virtue. However, in “Unbreakable” (2000), Shyamalan fools the audience by introducing a villain with a copious afro (Samuel L. Jackson) opposed to a hairless hero (Bruce Willis). The plot twist is undoubtedly perfect. What other examples of this unusual representation can be found in film? What could it mean to challenge the stereotypical trope? Why would it be worth exploring?
Bald Women in Film
There are mainly four reasons women have their heads shaved in films: 1) toughness (“Alien 3”, “G.I. Jane”), 2) illness or scientific experimentation (“Life in a Year”, “Stranger Things”), 3) rebellion, counterculture or villainy (“Mad Max: Fury Road”, “Guardians of the Galaxy”) or 4) mysticism (“Dr. Strange”, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell no Tales”). Of course, some of these reasons may overlap, but usually bald women in film are depicted as an abnormality, as a product of trauma, as the result of an extraordinary and life-changing event that catapults the plot. Why is getting a buzz cut for a woman a decision that needs to be justified and have a deeper meaning or rationality? Why does society feel the need to point it out publicly, to joke about it? Why people tempt to question the sanity or sexuality of a woman who decides to wear short or no hair? Are women supposed to have long, silky hair in order to be beautiful, feminine or just not weird? But most importantly, how does the film industry handle it? The normalization of western beauty standards might be being reinforced (imposed) by the way bald women are often portrayed in movies.
Chomping on Apples
In “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” (2003), the apple that Captain Sparrow bites in front of Barbosa does not serve alimentary purposes. This is done to humiliate the pirate because he is not able to taste any food due to his curse. This apple is, in a way, wasted food after one bite because Barbosa throws it away. However, Barbosa carries an apple with him to eat once the malediction is over. The movie ends with the uneaten (wasted) apple falling from his dying hand, but it appears again in the next movie, “Dead Man’s Chest” (2006), when he finally chomps on it with arrogance. An apple is a cinematic device to show the audience that the eater in question is an overconfident villain, a maverick badass or an arrogant person. Examples of this are Draco Malfoy in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (2004), Jerry Dandrige in “Fright Night” (2011), or Ajax in “Deadpool” (2016). The trope of the bad guy eating an apple has been pointed out in movie analyses, but it would be more interesting to explore the idea of wasted food, apples being the favorite food characters bite only once and then throw them away. Lex Luthor does it in “Smallville” (S01E02), and also Professor Colan in “Transformers: The Revenge of the Fallen” (2009). Is there a consequential reason for this beyond the mere trope?
The Portrayal of PhDs in the MCU
In Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Bruce Banner declares he has seven PhD degrees. In episode 7 of What If…? (2021), Jane Foster says she is “an astrophysicist with multiple PhDs.” With such statements, both characters try to assert their worth as scientists in contrast to superheroes with superpowers. However, holding multiple PhDs would be more of an educational disorder rather than a sign of academic achievement. PhD degrees are not medals or trophies that can be accumulated to show high intellect (the logic of “the more you have, the smarter you are” does not apply here). In a way, these films portray main characters whose value resides either in their intellectual capacity or their physical strength –climatically, in Avengers: Endgame (2019), we can see how Dr. Banner is able “to put the brains and brawn together.” Clearly, the MCU does not understand how academia and higher education work because imagining a scientist with seven PhDs is a more ridiculous idea than a super soldier or a man who can fly. What does this tell us about the concept of heroism that the MCU tries to sell? Is intelligence, in the form of a PhD degree, really another gimmick (like a suit of armor or a magic hammer) that can give proof of one’s value in the realm of superhero films? Why, in summation, are PhD holders so badly represented in superhero movies?
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